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There is a need to change how we think about some of the major issues facing humanity today. If we don’t then the issues will not be addressed properly. Climate and environmental issues are the obvious ones but there are also major social issues that need real solutions.
Pollution is not just the nasty stuff we pump into the land, the air, and the water, it is also what we pump into people’s minds.
While overtly supporting the massive and imminent dangers of Climate Change and denouncing the polluters, Big Tech is an outsized contributor to the problems through their revenue models.
And on the social-issues front, a recent news article states:
“The Wallstreet Journal reports that Facebook has known for years that Instagram was mass-producing anxiety, depression, and eating disorders among teen girls who use it, and did nothing about it.
That’s because giving teens eating disorders is very profitable. As Casey Johnston writes, “these companies know that it’s addictive to make people think that, somewhere in their app, there’s a solution to feeling inferior and incomplete. The influencer who makes you feel not pretty enough, who also seems to have the key to becoming pretty enough? That’s Instagram candy.”
This talk presents a Yoga Wisdom perspective.
Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya
So, tonight I titled the talk Big Tech – Big Pollution. So, I’ve been asked a few questions about some of these things. There is, of course, a huge amount of room for improvement in our own lives, and the way that we live, but for there to be true improvement there has to be a lot more clarity, and that clarity means also recognizing the influences that we are sort of acting under, so that we can try to become more independent in our thinking.
The tendency of all human beings in the material condition is to become, not somewhat, but extremely conditioned by certain types of consciousness, and the types of consciousness that we find ourselves in really determine our thinking process, the nature of the things which we desire, the nature of the things that we value and really determine our decision-making, our choices, and the actions that follow that.
And what we see over time, with the introduction of more and more technology (and when I say that I mean everything from motor vehicles to smart phones and everything else in between) with the introduction of technology in the world has not made us smarter. They call a phone a smartphone, but it doesn’t mean that if we have one we’ve become smart. It could be just the opposite, that we’ve been actually significantly dumbed down by the influence of the devices, for instance, and by the technologies.
But what the technologies do is create an opportunity to magnify the potential damage that we can do to the world, to society, to ourselves, through the use of technology. So, technology acts as a magnifying glass. When technology is used in a negative way, when it is used to exploit people by corralling them into certain types of thinking so that they will act in certain ways so they can be financially exploited, this is—all contributes to the mess that we actually find ourselves in.
I mean if you look back over the last 20, 30 years, and we ask, “What city in the world has actually become a much better place to live in?” and everybody will be kind of scratching their head, and looking around, and going, “Well, actually none. There’s more facility in some ways but actually my life has not really become better.”
I mean how do we measure better? I think ways that we should measure better, or consider: Are we more peaceful? Are we happier? Are we healthier? Is the environment in which we live becoming more beautiful? Beauty, health, peacefulness, these are important, important things to have in life. They add to a much better quality of life. But if we’re becoming more distracted, if our environment is becoming more corrupted and polluted, if it’s becoming more degraded and less beautiful, then this is not really contributing to our life. If anything, it’s heading in the other way.
So, what I wanted to just look at, because, again in response to a lot of questions that I get, is the way in which we become herded into certain types of thinking and certain types of behaviour. All you have to do is look at what people consider to be cool in different ages. And if you look at what the standards for coolness are it doesn’t bode very well for people’s ability to exist in a space that is peaceful, it is healthy (meaning clean and everything else that goes with that), and is beautiful.
So, when we examine the role that Big Tech has in the state of the world, when you really look at the role that it’s playing, it actually becomes quite alarming. Before we get into this, I just want to say I’m not saying that they are the problem. The problem is the consciousness that society has been—we’ve being herded down this route, and it’s not going to a good place.
And they’ve got a verse in the Bhagavad-gita. It says:
“Whatever a great man does the common man is sure to follow.”
So, that’s very—a significant verse. People develop different ideas of what is great. And I saw a thing on TV last night, some people just examining the whole thing about social influencers in different country, and how a social influencer has become like mega stars. They go out on the street in public, and they get followed by lots of people, and people want to take selfies with them, and… It’s like you’re meeting a movie star, or some really famous person. And it’s kind of like, Hello! It’s an influencer! People that live thoroughly empty lives, very performative, just totally obsessed with how many followers they’re getting, and thinking of what they need to do and say in order to maintain attention. And of course, that always means sort of dialing things up, and it’s just like this vicious cycle that we exist in.
So, the state of individual consciousness and of society as a whole is what we need to look at if we want to really deal with many of the significant problems that we face. So, there was a recent expose in the Wall Street Journal, and I’m probably going to do a reasonable amount of reading tonight, and I hope that’s okay with you, but I think it’s really important to hear these words as they were spoken. So, I’ll just read from this particular publication.
“The Wall Street Journal obtained a trove of internal Facebook documents and used them for a series of articles about how rich celebrities get to break the company’s rules with impunity, including posting apparent revenge porn; how Instagram has created an epidemic of mental health problems amongst young girls.”
I’ll read that again,
“how Instagram [these internal documents showed] how Instagram had created an epidemic of mental health problems amongst young girls; how drug cartels and human traffickers have used Facebook openly to run their operations; and how company staff know perfectly well that the algorithm fuels hate and extremism,”
The company staff know that their algorithms fuel hate and extremism!
“…and how the company’s systems are so toxic and broken that even Mark Zuckerberg himself couldn’t use it effectively to promote vaccination.”
Are we shocked yet? Continuing,
“This reporting proves beyond any doubt that Facebook is a menace that cannot be reformed from the inside. All the root causes of these problems are directly produced by how the company is designed and operated.”
So, they’re not, it’s not like a casual or a mistaken thing. The root causes for all these problems mentioned is, “it is produced directly by how the company is designed and how it is operated.” So, no innocence here.
“By 2017 the company was looking at a long-term decline in use among rich countries and tried various strategies to reverse the trend. It turns out that the easiest way to do this [here we go] is to reward inflammatory content, incentivize anger and hostility, and encourage fighting in the comments section.”
That’s how they remained relevant.
“This worked by retaining users but at the cost of sowing bitterness, division, paranoia and extremism across the globe.”
And I just remind you that all these findings were from internal Facebook documentation. This is executives and management level people discussing the outcomes that were being produced.
“Political parties from Poland, to Spain, to Latin America complained to Facebook that the changes incentivized polarization and extremism, the Wall Street Journal reports. It also reported that Facebook had known for years that Instagram was mass producing anxiety, depression and eating disorders amongst teenage girls who use it, and did nothing about it.
So, again I’ll just repeat, “that Instagram,” according to Facebook’s own internal documentation,
“knew that it was mass producing anxiety, depression and eating disorder amongst teen girls who use it, and did nothing about it. That’s because giving teens eating disorders is very profitable. As Casey Johnston writes these companies know that it’s addictive to make people think that somewhere in their app there is a solution to feeling inferior and incomplete.”
([The influencers who make you feel not pretty enough, who also seems to have the key to becoming pretty enough] I’ll just read that again, I didn’t read it properly)
“The influencer who makes you feel not pretty enough also seems to have the key to becoming pretty enough. That’s Instagram candy.”
That’s just like, oh my God! It’s amazing! So, a little bit more before we talk about it:
“Facebook is obsessively focused on ways to get people to spend more time on its services so it can sell more ads and make more money, and it basically doesn’t care at all when those strategies dissolve the social fabric or fuel genocide. Throughout the Wall Street Journal’s articles it is clear that the company brass is far more worried about avoiding negative publicity and appearing to be concerned about these problems than actually doing anything to solve them, because that would harm their bottom line.”
So, if they address the problems that they were causing it would negatively impact them financially And so, they don’t do it. It’s all about exploiting people for money.
So, we’re seeing in the world there’s all these concerns. And I’m sort of tying them all together in this discussion by considering different types of, what I’m categorizing as pollution. (Excuse me) Everybody accepts that there is—well not everybody but the majority of people I would hazard to think, in the world, accept that there is serious issues with climate change, and Big Tech is like so supportive of doing something about this issue and raising awareness. You know, everybody needs to be more aware of the issues and that they need to do something about it. But of course, they’re not really embracing their own contribution, the cause of environmental degradation and all of the different catastrophic effects which we’re experiencing.
The cause is not carbon emissions or greenhouse gases. These are symptoms. They’re not the cause. These are symptoms of what is actually the cause. The cause is the endless and pointless consumption that society is engaged in. So, those two words are important, this endless consumption. And it’s pointless. It’s not really contributing anything to people’s life, not really.
So, we have a planet with 7.9 billion people on it trying to fill up their emptiness, trying to fill a bottomless hole within their own heart. And what’s driving it all? It’s fundamentally advertising. And advertising has become more than about just ads as they appear. I mean people have—people don’t realize how invasive things like product placements are in movies, in TV shows, in influencer’s lives. There’s all kinds of things that have been used now to fundamentally—
I mean it’s been going on for a long time. It was first developed by Eddie Bernays back in the 20s. He was the first one to do product placements, but it’s become more and more targeted and focused.
I mean what you have every time you look at your device—this is something I’ve mentioned before because it really struck me when I watched an academic talking one time—that every time you look at the screen on your device you actually have this mammoth supercomputer pointed at your brain, watching and monitoring everything about you, the way in which you react to things, whether you hesitatingly hit a like button or don’t, or swipe, or go to the next thing, whether you type something in a search and then erase part of that and complete it another way, the tone of your voice when you talk, the way you react, and I mean everything is being watched and monitored. And AI is using all of these things to gain a deeper and deeper understanding of you, not someone else, of you, and what is it that moves you, what is it that elicits response, and how can that be exploited for financial gain.
I heard one academic talking about, they’re getting so good it’s going to be soon at the point where someone will pick up on—or not someone, the algorithm will pick up that you’re about to go on a date, and you haven’t been on a date for quite a while, and so, you may be feeling a little bit insecure about how you’re going to appear. And then what will happen is that perhaps somebody that’s selling leather jackets, or a certain type of cool clothing, current clothing, will be alerted and their products will suddenly start popping up on your device to try and fill that gap and help you develop a more confident image. And of course, the social media that’s doing this will be taking a percentage of your impulse buy to try and cover up for some feeling of insecurity.
This same academic talked about, in a study that they had done, how a man in the UK became aware that his daughter was pregnant even before she knew. it’s kind of, okay, how did that happen? So, when things were examined, usually at the early onset of pregnancy there are hormonal changes which cause people to sometimes really change their preferences. They might be affected by strong smells of things, and they want now to have products that are not so heavily scented; and there’s all kinds of things. And this technology is so dialed in that it saw the changes in the daughter’s preference, and the father started being sent ads about baby products. And he asked his daughter, “Are you pregnant?” and she said, “No!” And then they find out that she actually is. And this was a real case that these academics had studied; and it showed how incredibly invasive this technology is, and how it’s shaping the way people are making choices and how they’re directing their lives.
When you look at the amount of money that’s been spent, and the advertising revenues of these companies—I mean it’s astonishing. This is why these Big Tech companies have become like countries, you know, with just massive incomes that are far greater than some or a lot of countries in the world. I saw a report where five Big Tech companies in this last year accounted for nearly half of all the world’s advertising revenue. They found that Google, Facebook, Alibaba, TikTok and Amazon generated ad sales of 296 billion dollars. In Kiwi dollars, here in New Zealand, that’s 423.3 billion dollars last year. That was like 46% of all of the revenue for advertising spent in the world. And when you look at that amount that’s been spent in the world, over 600 billion dollars, why are companies spending that money? Because they know it works. They can actually have—they can track that when you spend the money your revenue goes up, and it’s directly proportionate. When you target ads, you get revenue. Your sales go up. Google alone generated 147 billion dollars in revenue last year from ads. Facebook, Amazon, Google, they got 124 billion dollars last year just in the USA alone.
So, it’s—we have pretty much nothing short of a frenzy of indulgence. And it’s rooted in something that started back in in 1920s, things that were spoken about before. There was this transformation amongst the industrial and banking elites in America, and they made a decision that they had to fundamentally transform America, and of course, this led to a transformation of the world. The renowned banker Paul Mazur, who was a director on the board of Lehman Brothers, he stated in a newspaper article—This wasn’t a secret. It was out in the open—He stated,
“We must shift America from a needs to a desire’s culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old had been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.”
Must! And of course, why? Only so that people can be financially exploited. But then the question is, okay, at what cost? At what cost to the world? At what cost to society, to humanity?
And it took hold. This transformation took hold so rapidly that just seven, or there was going to be—he said that, I think, in about 1922, or 23, or 24, 1924 I think it was, then in—three years later in 1927 an American journalist wrote:
“A change has come over our democracy. It is called consumtionism. An American citizen’s first importance to his country is now no longer that of a citizen but that of a consumer.”
So, just like how this transformation in just like three years—and this is before Big Tech. This is way before the internet. This is just with radio and print media. And then a year after that the newly elected president, Herbert Hoover, he spoke at a convention of public relations people, and demonstrated that he had firmly embraced the central role of consumerism. And he said in his speech to all these public relations people, “You have taken over the job of creating desire and have transformed people into constantly moving happiness machines, machines which have become the key to economic progress.”
And of course, it begs the question, oh my God, if people are seen that their importance is to serve the economy, then who’s the economy serving? If people are servants of the economy, it means they have been exploited for someone’s benefit. When the economy does not serve the broader population, but the population is serving the economy everything has become turned upside down.
So, we’ve talked about a lot of these things before, and I had some other stuff I was going to read out. I won’t do it; but this new norm of consumerism actually now has become supercharged by Big Tech. Big Tech is playing an outsized role in making it worse, in accelerating the problems of the world. If consumption, pointless and endless consumption lies at the heart of much of the world’s problems, it leads to so many—so much conflict on so many different levels, so much degradation of the environment, degradation of humanity, debasing people; if that is the case then anybody that’s playing a significant role in promoting consumerism, and making people more addicted to it, they share a large responsibility for that.
And I’ll just remind you of—there was a guy, Tristan Harris, he was a former Google employee. He was their—worked in their, meant to be their ethics of how they operate—who resigned and has become a major critic of Big Tech. And before Congress, U.S Congress, just somewhat recently, he described the model, the business model of Big Tech. And he said it:
“The business model, is to create a society that is addicted, outraged, polarized, performative and disinformed, and that’s just the fundamentals of how it works.”
So, this idea that the—I think it’s—we must embrace that the social, the environmental, the mental pollution on the planet now is totally driven by consumption patterns. And the idea that you can fix that, the pollution, with alternative energy is nuts. You’re not going to fix it by changing the type of energy that’s being used to fuel this monster.
There is a real need for people to consider, what’s the purpose of my life? What’s its value? Where should it be heading? What values should I be imparting to my children? How should I be relating to my friends, to my family, to the broader society?
You see that Big Tech, while it is overtly supporting the massive and imminent dangers of climate change, supporting these ideas, “Wow there’s big problems. Alert! Alert! Alert!” and they denounce polluters and get on the bandwagon of shaming the polluters, Big Tech is actually an outsized contributor to a lot of these problems
Pollution is not just the stuff that we pump into the earth, and into the air, and into the water, it’s also what we pump into people’s minds. So, Big Tech’s contribution to this is disproportionately large, primarily because of the refined use of psychology, and then being able to magnify that through technology to make it so that that influence and that manipulation is tremendously magnified.
So, what’s really needed is a massive change, a change of heart. There needs to be a revolution in the heart. Don’t look to others. We need to look to ourself. If I don’t embrace change, if I don’t embrace the need for finding higher meaning and purpose in my life, then how can I demand it of others. The need for me to become kinder, for me to become more compassionate, for me to curb all of these appetites, for me to quieten the mind and the heart, to find something more relevant and important.
And of course, we know that ultimately this becomes a spiritual quest. The philosophy of hedonism, the idea in that—I’ll just look here for a little quote. The guy that wrote and produced the that BBC documentary, The Century Of The Self, that I often refer to. He described that that four part documentary was:
“…the story of the rise of an idea that has come to dominate our society. It is the belief that satisfaction of individual feelings and desires is our highest priority.”
And no, it’s not, because these desires and feelings are actually being planted in us and stimulated, and it’s not like—we’re not totally or sufficiently in control of our life and deciding for ourselves what is important.
We know that the purpose of human existence is self-realization. There is nothing more important. There is nothing else that will really fill that empty void within the heart other than actual self-realization, genuine spiritual experience, the awakening of actual spiritual love, that love, that happiness that we all desire and seek. This is what the whole is. And of course, we know that the primary way that that is going to happen is through the practice of meditation. To cultivate yogic wisdom is really, really important, but what will bring the internal shift, what will gel what is just ideas in the mind to a perceivable reality, the thing that will make that difference is—the thing that will bring about the change in consciousness, the thing that will awaken us to see everything with great clarity, is spiritual realization. And the principle way, or the principle tool for bringing that about is this process of the chanting, the use of spiritual sound, and for us to build a daily habit.
For anybody that’s new to the things that we’re discussing, on my website Acharyadas.com there are plenty of tools available, resources to learn how to practice different forms of mantra meditation, some suggestions of how to build a daily practice, a regular daily practice, and some guided meditations that you can use on a daily basis that will make it so that your life begins to change, the way in which you are seeing things really begins to change.
So, I invite you to join with me and we will finish out with a kirtan. I will begin with the mantra Gopala Govinda Rama Madana Mohana, and then I may go into the mahamantra or the Hare Krishna mantra.